Cover Story

Leena Leading The Big World Of High Fashion

Who exactly is Leena Nair?

Leena Nair is the first female CEO of the French luxury brand Chanel and a British Indian business executive. Prior to then, the 52-year-old was Unilever’s first female and youngest-ever Chief Human Resources Officer, a job she left in order to join the legendary company in January 2022.

In 2017, Queen Elizabeth II recognised Leena Nair as one of the successful Indian business leaders in the UK, and among her many other accomplishments, she was also named “Role Model of Year, The Great British Businesswoman’s Awards, 2021.” In 2022, she was also named to Forbes India’s Top Self-Made Women’s List.

Leena, who is now located in London, has taken the leadership of one of the world’s largest couture companies, a business empire valued at Rs. 1,28,000 crore. She is an Indian businesswoman who has been the global CEO of Chanel, one of the world’s most iconic luxury companies, since January 2022. She is well-known for her contributions to human resources, advocacy for workplace diversity and inclusion, and competence in leading and reforming global organisations. Leena is regarded as a visionary leader with the capacity to champion a long-term, purpose-driven agenda and a consistently outstanding track record of business accomplishments.

She has joined the ranks of Indian-origin executives such as Sundar Pichai, Parag Agrawal, and Satya Nadella at the helm of prominent global firms with Chanel. Nair, who managed 160,000 people at Unilever, will be located in London in her new post. She encourages businesswomen to dream big and break down barriers.

Leena Nair’s Journey From Fashion Outsider To CEO At Chanel

How has the journey begun?

Leena Nair, a successful Indian business leader, was born in the Maharashtra city of Kolhapur in 1969. Nair’s early years were defined by a steadfast dedication to knowledge, a trait that would serve her well in the future. She attended Kolhapur’s Holy Cross Convent High School before transferring to The New College. She pursued her bachelor’s degree in electronics and telecommunication engineering at the prestigious Walchand College of Engineering in Sangli, Maharashtra, driven by a passion for both business and technology. Following that, she continued her academic path at the XLRI-Xavier School of Management, where she was awarded a gold medal for her achievements in the discipline.

LearnwithLeena session with students of XLRI.

Private Life

She was born in Kolhapur, a city with few educational opportunities, and grew up with numerous standards, taboos, and barriers dictating what girls may and cannot achieve.

Leena Nair values a fulfilling personal life outside of the work environment. She is K. Karthikeyan’s daughter and has a close relationship with her industrialist cousins, Vijay Menon and Sachin Menon. Leena is married and the proud mother of two sons. Leena, a woman with many hobbies, enjoys reading and running. Interestingly, she enjoys Bollywood dancing, exhibiting a colourful side to her nature.

Leena, Kumar, Aryan and Sid

Professional Career

Under the direction of the strictly regulated family design company that fashion legend Gabrielle “Coco” Chanel founded in 1910, Nair, an outsider, is known as a “serial glass-ceiling breaker.” Chanel is most recognised now for its tweed suits, quilted purses, and No. 5 perfume.

Leena Nair’s career journey demonstrates her tenacity, perseverance, and unrivalled leadership abilities. Her career began in 1992, when she joined Hindustan Unilever as a management trainee. She worked her way up the corporate ladder, working in factories, sales, and corporate headquarters. She was named Executive Director of Human Resources at Hindustan Unilever Limited in 2007. Later that year, she became Unilever’s “first female, first Asian, and youngest ever” Chief Human Resources Officer. Unilever has been designated the number one FMCG graduate employer of choice in 54 countries during her 25-year tenure.

Leena with Wang Yibo

Over a ten-year span beginning in 2010, she assisted HUL in achieving a 50/50 female balance in worldwide leadership. She was also a member of Unilever’s Leadership Executive, which is in charge of delivering the company’s financial success as well as its ambitious environmental and positive social impact goals. Her strategy at HUL includes a pledge to provide a decent wage throughout its entire supplier chain.

Her leadership helped Unilever increase its human capital while negotiating the complexity of diverse regulatory and labour contexts in over 190 countries. Unilever was also named the number one FMCG graduate employer of choice in 54 countries as a result of this. Nair was a driving force behind Unilever’s Diversity and Inclusion programme, guaranteeing a diverse and inclusive workforce.

Nair was chosen as Chanel’s global CEO in December 2021, a testament to her significant leadership. She also serves as a non-executive board member for BT plc, as a member of the trust board for the Leverhulme Trust, and in other capacities.

Nair’s contributions to the world of business have not gone ignored. She has received various honours, including being named to Forbes India’s Top Self-Made Women’s List in 2022 and being named Role Model of the Year at The Great British Businesswoman’s Awards in 2021. Other honours include being named to Fortune India’s Most Powerful Women’s List in 2021 and being named as one of the outstanding Indian Business Leaders in the UK by Queen Elizabeth II in 2017.

Most recently, she was named to Fortune’s list of the most powerful women in business in 2023, as well as the WWD 50 Women in Power List 2023.

Nair mastered a variety of talents, from soap making to dealing with unions. Her experiences helped her develop resilience and the courage to reject social norms.

Nair addressed the implications of artificial intelligence on the fashion business, stating that she believes machines will not create garments in the near future. She emphasised the significance of sustaining human inventiveness. She also gave insights regarding consumer preferences in the aftermath of the pandemic. Customers showed a significant preference for bold colours, and sequins were in high demand, showing a need for greater glitter and brilliance. Nair also reported a rise in lipstick sales as mask-wearing regulations relaxed, which corresponds to the concept of the ‘lipstick effect’ during economic downturns.

Chanel remains a major participant in women’s fashion, with 565 stores globally and a workforce of 32,000 employees. Despite difficult economic conditions, the corporation reported over $17 billion in revenue in 2022, a 17% increase over the previous year. Nair’s leadership continues to propel achievement and inspire women to break through glass barriers in business.

Leena Nair’s life and career trajectory offer a picture of an outstanding woman who has broken down barriers and continues to affect the corporate world through her leadership, advocacy for diversity and inclusion, and human-centred approach. Her journey demonstrates her commitment, resilience, and remarkable leadership talents, and she serves as an inspiring role model for aspiring business executives all over the world.

-Melwyn Williams

Melwyn Williams

Melwyn is a renowned film actor, producer, writer and director in the Indian film Industry. He is a writer as well as a journalist. He has contributed immensely to the world of art, literature and cinema. He is the founder of LADAKH INTERNATIONAL FILM FESTIVAL, LIFF. He has been active in the film industry for more than two decades. Melwyn believes that AESTHETICS is the next big thing to be incorporated in all spheres of life and technology. Website

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